Pitching your agency’s work in all the right places

To get positive coverage of your events, think local — don’t dismiss the church bulletin and community papers

Would you rather see a story about your ambulance service in USA Today or the local church bulletin?

In most cases, if you said USA Today, you’d be wrong. Think about it — do you truly read through every page of USA Today, every day? There’s probably not one person who’s reading this column who actually does that. You probably don’t even do that for your local daily newspaper!

Now answer this. Do you look at every page of your church bulletin when it arrives? I bet a decent number of you do. I know, probably not word-for-word, but you’re probably looking through each page, skimming the headlines and looking at the pictures to decide if there’s anything you want to actually read. Why is that?

Familiar faces and places

The reason is actually pretty simple. You chose to be part of this community. It’s also likely you have friends or family who are members, and that you’d recognize other church members.

When you see someone you recognize in a photo, you read the caption and possibly even the full story to see why they were included. The same goes for when the story’s header has information that interests you. More people in your community are likely to read and remember a story about your service in the church bulletin than people in that same community that read USA Today.

The same concept applies to free community papers — the ones that get left on doorsteps or are mailed to your home. People flip through these small, locally focused papers to see if they recognize their neighbors or if local shops or schools are mentioned.

Picture the neighborhood

Here’s the key point too many spokespeople and public relations people fail to take advantage of: It’s a lot easier to get a positive story in a church bulletin or community paper than it is to get it in the big daily newspaper. Small papers often only have one or two people on their editorial staff. They’re only looking for very localized community stories.

A community paper only considers a story if the business is literally, physically located in their distribution area or the company is doing something targeted specifically to residents in that target area.

Try repeating an event you already have planned in another neighborhood, and submit a picture in front of local landmarks to make sure each community paper gets a local picture to personalize your story so that they care.

An easy way to do this would be to take multiple pictures from different locations when you make a donation or offer a community training event. If you’re providing tips to school kids, take photos in front of different schools and send the right picture to the appropriate community newspaper. Even if you never enter the school, it’ll still make the story more locally newsworthy.

When you send photos, make sure to say where the photo was taken so that the local paper knows that the photo is local and personalized for them. Don’t expect them to recognize every building in every photo. If you take this extra step to personalize the visuals, you’ll absolutely get more coverage for your agency.

Think up local angle

If you can’t physically do an event in a paper’s distribution area, there’s another way to increase the chances you’ll get covered. Quote or include a photo of an employee who lives in that area. When sending the story to the paper, include an editor’s note stating which employee lives in their area, and include the ZIP code in which they live. Doing this makes a story feel local, even if the actual event occurs 20 miles away.

Church bulletins might prove harder to get a story included than the community papers, but if you’re creative you can find an excuse or two each year to get included. For example, if you offer a free CPR or AED training at the church, you’re likely to get a great PR or photo opportunity. Same if you do a touch-a-truck tour of the ambulance for the kids. Try to assign crew members or a spokesperson who’s already a member of that church.

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